PATERSON, NJ – Route 20 would get $10.6 million in drainage and safety improvements, under preliminary plans that state transportation department representatives outlined to city officials Tuesday night.

The plan targets two dangerous spots where officials said there are high numbers of accidents because the current left turn lanes are too short, forcing vehicles waiting to make the turns to back up onto the highway.

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The proposal would eliminate the current the left turn lane that directs traffic from the northbound lanes of Route 20 onto the local city streets near the Paterson Catholic building. Instead, drivers would use a newly-configured ramp – the one that currently only carries traffic from Route 20 North onto Route 4 East – in order to get to Broadway, where they then would be able to turn left towards Paterson or right to get to the towns on the other side of the Passaic River.

Also, the left-turn slot at 5th Avenue, which is now about 100 feet long, would be lengthened to 400 feet to allow far more vehicles to get out of the flow of traffic while waiting for the traffic light to change.

The drainage improvements would extend over a 3.4 million stretch of the highway, from 5th Avenue down to Route 80, near the Loews. The work is designed to prevent the kind of flooding that forced the shutdown of parts of the highway during storms in March 2010 and 2010, state representatives said. But improvements would not prevent flooding under conditions like the deluge of water that came with Hurricane Irene, state representatives said.

“It’s not perfect, but it’s a vast improvement over what we have now,’’ said Councilman William McKoy, who represents the 3rd Ward where most of the highway is located, after hearing the state’s plans. “I don’t think there’s anybody who would say keep it the way it is now.’’

“This will allow economic development to continue to go on there,’’ said Councilwoman Vera Ames-Garnes. “The flooding has stopped a lot of developers from looking at that corridor.’’

But Patersonians shouldn’t expect change overnight.  The project still must go through preliminary and final design work and construction is not scheduled to start until the 2015 fiscal year, which begins on July 1, 2014, said Shaenna Miller, New Jersey Department of Transportation (DOT) lead engineer on the project. And once construction begins, that will take another three to five years, Miller said.

The DOT’s Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan for Passaic County earmarks the bulk of the funding, $8.8 million, in the fiscal year 2018. 

The City Council next must adopt a resolution endorsing the DOT’s proposal before design work can proceed, Miller said.

McKoy was disappointed that the plans would not change the troublesome traffic conditions at the circle where 10th Avenue meets Route 20.  He asked Miller if the state could study possible improvements of that section of the highway. But she said there currently was not money in the budget for that work. Also, the number of accidents at 10th Avenue has been far lower than at the Broadway and 5th Avenue locations, said Peter Black, a senior associate with Dewberry, a  consulting firm that works for DOT.

City officials also asked about safety improvements for pedestrians crossing and walking along Route 20, especially near the Loews. Miller said that was part of a separate project being worked on by the state.

During Tuesday night’s presentation, council members focused on the particulars of the project:

  • At Broadway, the state would install a traffic light at the point where the newly configured ramp would carry traffic from the Route 20 northbound lanes. Ames-Garnes warned that during inclement weather vehicles coming from Paterson down the hill towards the bridge would have a hard time stopping at the light. “Are you aware that when we have snow or ice you cannot get up Broadway hill or down it?’’ she said.
  • A median would be built across the highway where the current left turn lanes carry traffic to Edwards Street.
  • At 5th Avenue, traffic from Paterson would no longer make a direct left onto Route 20 northbound. Instead, vehicles would follow a slight bend in the round, which now accommodates a u-turn, and make a left onto Route 20 north at a new traffic light there.
  • At 5th Avenue, the highway would be raised about three feet to prevent flooding. But the state engineers said that can’t be done in other locations, like Broadway and near Loews, because of overpasses.

State representatives additional changes could come about during the design process. The DOT said it would hold public meetings as the project progresses.